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10 Burning Questions: NFC South

Drew Brees' SportsCenter Conversation


By SAM SPIEGELMAN
XN Sports

One of my favorite NFL trends that remains true to this day: no NFC South champion has been able to repeat.

I believe that remains true in 2014, as the New Orleans Saints have re-loaded, adding more weapons on both sides of the ball to overtake current champion Carolina. The Panthers had arguably the worst offseason, losing key players to put Cam Newton into a difficult position. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are about to embark on Year 1 of the Lovie Smith era, while the Atlanta Falcons look to bounce back after an unprecedented down year.

Here are the 10 burning questions for the NFC South in 2014:

1. Should the Saints be considered the favorites to win the division?

Without question. I expect New Orleans to challenge Seattle and San Francisco for the top seed in the NFC as well. The Saints have a wealth of offensive talent around Drew Brees, and on the defensive side of the ball have assembled one of the best secondaries in the league. It may be an even more balanced team than the Super Bowl XLIV-winning squad.

2. Will the Panthers regress?

Again, yes. It's not a knock on Newton or Ron Rivera, but the front office. The organization let too many quality role players walk in free agency. Now the Panthers have to piece together an offensive line and secondary. And as for who Newton can hand the rock off to or throw to - it's arguably the worst collection of skill players in all the league.

3. Can the Falcons bounce back?

It happens in the NFC South more than any other division in the NFL. With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White - plus a revamped offensive line - the offense can certainly make waves. The challenge will be on defense, where the unit is transforming into a 3-4 and may be subject to growing pains. After going 4-12 in 2013, I can see Atlanta getting six to eight wins this year.

4. What should we expect from Lovie Smith in his first season in Tampa?

Defensive players living up to their reputation. Listen, when your roster includes Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Alterraun Verner, Mark Barron, and Dashon Goldson, your defense should be ultra-competitive. Lovie will, fittingly, insert the Tampa 2, and the defense should brace for a strong season.

5. How dangerous is the Saints offense?

It has a strong chance of being the best in the NFL. Not only is the quarterback elite, but the top five or six receivers are all quality targets with multi-dimensional skill-sets. Jimmy Graham can be indefensible. Brandin Cooks should be a Darren Sproles, Percy Harvin-like weapon. Kenny Stills can stretch the field, and a backfield tandem of Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram should keep defenses on their toes.

6. Who's catching passes from Cam Newton?

Welp. Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are the two veterans to keep an eye on. And I don't anticipate Kelvin Benjamin being a force until maybe later on in the year. A sleeper could be tight end Greg Olsen, who may have to be a safety valve for Newton who will be under pressure quite frequently.

7. What defensive changes did Atlanta make?

The team has shifted to a 3-4, with a lot of mediocre talent in its front seven. Kroy Biermann is the chief pass-rusher, and while he's a good player I don't know if he's a true difference-maker. The secondary might be the strongest level of this unit.

8. Can Josh McCown continue where he left off?

He has the weapons to. Tampa armed McCown with two 6-foot-5 targets in Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins to go along with Vincent Jackson, which resembles the Bears' Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. I'm still skeptical about whether McCown can succeed without Marc Trestman on the sidelines, but he has enough weapons around him to perhaps prove me wrong.

9. Where does the Saints secondary rank in the NFL?

Let's not discount the Legion of Boom, but New Orleans could have a close No. 2 secondary. Champ Bailey is the second corner in a unit featuring Keenan Lewis, and safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro, arguably two of the top five safeties overall in the NFL. In the big picture, the Giants, Ravens, Cardinals, Browns, Broncos, Bucs, and Pats also sport strong secondaries.

10. Which is the second-best team in the NFC South?

The Falcons' defense is a major question mark. The Panthers have lost a number of major contributors. And the Buccaneers just underwent a coaching change. Still, I think the Bucs have the best chance at being the No. 2 team in the division, if McCown plays 80 percent as well as he did last year. He has a running game and strong defense to back him up, while Newton is a one-man team and the Falcons will have trouble stopping anybody.

RELATED LINKS

5 NFL teams poised to improve in 2014

5 NFL teams poised for regression in 2014

Top 10 NFL defensive players who will regress in 2014

10 NFL offensive players expected to regress in 2014

10 NFL defensive players primed for bounce-back seasons

For more sports coverage, please visit XNSports.com

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
for.good.or.evil July 04 2014 at 6:48 AM

Should the Saints be forced
by this Obama government
to change it's name?
Surely none of these football players are 'Saints' and their name is insulting to us who are...

Flag Reply +6 rate up
2 replies
jdsept for.good.or.evil July 04 2014 at 7:02 AM

Right YOU are a saint? Everything is NOT Obama. People like YOU have a sickness. -- Not an Obama voter

Flag Reply 0 rate up
enough already for.good.or.evil July 04 2014 at 5:07 PM

The name "SAINTS" is surely offensive to atheist and should have their trademark pulled and be forced to change the name.
Go REDSKINS

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ram4131 July 03 2014 at 9:10 PM

dangerdad71----New England made it to the AFC championship game with (count em) FIVE defensive starters out for the season.(3 pro-bowlers) All are back.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
dangerdad71 July 03 2014 at 8:47 PM

Seattle will win it all again. They are a young team with too much talent on defense, and as we all saw last season DEFENSE wins Superbowls. Period.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
soccer_sucks July 04 2014 at 8:08 AM

It is tooooo early to talk about football

Flag Reply +1 rate up
JC July 03 2014 at 4:08 PM

This looks pretty simple. If the Saints can get the #1 seed, I can't see SF, Seattle, or any other team winning in New Orleans. If they don't get the #1 seed, I can't see them winning at SF or Seattle. The regular season is going to be especially important in the NFC this year.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
LinkDeVille July 03 2014 at 3:42 PM

Go ahead and understand it to be the truth...If the Saints can get past the Seahawks, the Saints will win the Superbowl! Mark it as official.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
dangerdad71 LinkDeVille July 03 2014 at 8:45 PM

only one problem there: they CAN'T get past Seattle. We will chew them up and spit them out, AGAIN! Mark THAT as official.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
1 reply
Lisa dangerdad71 July 03 2014 at 11:09 PM

Ahh, Seattle! Classy as ever I see!?

Flag 0 rate up
timjofred July 03 2014 at 11:18 PM

Kam Chancellor has rated Graham and called him soft. He shut him out, but then Kam shut down Vernon Davis also. When you have something to say about how good the Saints are, measure them against the team that shuts them down. The Saints are not at the same level as the Seahawks.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Steve-a-rino July 04 2014 at 9:43 AM

Right now everyone's destined for the Super Bowl.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
reneesac July 04 2014 at 8:28 AM

Seattle or SF will come thru the Mercedes Benz Superdome this year. No chance to get past the Saints at their home. This year is Saints turn - For all you Seattle lovers, you are one and done. You may not even win division.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Maddmax July 04 2014 at 12:33 PM

Stupid game!!!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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